An Interview with Jeff Rosenstock
words and interview by ben tipple
photography by hiro tanaka
Jeff Rosenstock is a busy man. Having released what is already tipped to be one of the defining punk albums of 2018 at the very turn of the year, I temporarily interrupt his work on the score for Cartoon Network’s Craig Of The Creek, as well as practicing with Antactigo Vespucci, his indie-rock band featuring long-time friend Chris Farren. “I’m just trying to do a lot of it without losing my mind,” Rosenstock laughs, somewhere between flippancy and an admirable drive.
Having built a cult following as the lead vocalist in Bomb The Music Industry!, and before that in The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, Rosenstock had become an early stalwart of the contemporary DIY punk movement. Now in his mid-30s, his solo material inadvertently finds him breaking through into the mainstream. His most recent album ‘POST-‘ has drawn widespread attention, in part due to the success of its predecessor ‘WORRY’, and in part due to its overt social and political viewpoints.
The significance of ‘POST-‘ being released on New Year’s Day isn’t lost on Rosenstock. “There’s a message in it to me,” he says. “It felt important to me, just starting the year off right and shaking off the bullshit of 2017.” Yet he adds a caveat: “But that’s just for me.”
He is keen to dissociate the record from the political sphere, both in our conversation and previous interviews. His latest music may be a reaction to a turbulent year in the United States, but it is not to be defined by it. “If I put all my eggs in the basket of symbolism, and it coming out on January 1st, then it wouldn’t be a very important record on January 2nd,” he succinctly explains.
Yet from the epic critique in album opener proper ‘USA’, complete with its “we’re tired and bored” refrain, to the defiance of closer ‘Let Them Win’, ‘POST-‘ presents itself as something of a protest record. Although the lyrical inspiration may dip in and out of politics, it feels both scathing and liberating. Whether the record was intended in such a way, it’s been picked up by many as an early voice of resistance in 2018.
“Obviously the things that I believe in politically are on the record,” Rosenstock explains. “It’s obvious where it is. But at the same time, I was just making a record that was honest to how I was feeling. Best case scenario you make a record acknowledging that all the shit is happening, and it’s emotionally tough to process all of it, and maybe the record will make somebody feel not as fucking weird about it.”
‘POST-‘ was created as an individual reaction to the political and social climate. With typical humility, Rosenstock expresses a certain disbelief in the increasing momentum of the record. Any political or social influence is purely coincidental, a biproduct of putting his thoughts to paper. “If there’s any hope I have it’s that it will make somebody feel happy, or less alone. More things like that than trying to overthrow the government and capitalism. I think it’s pretty deluded to think that’s a possibility. But it’s not deluded to think that a song could make one person feel less bad about thinking that way.”
This is testament to his relationship to the punk scene. At 35, he approaches this word in a very different way. No longer heavily embedded in the world of DIY, he’s found a new outlook on the pillars of the genre. “I think I’ve learned from being a punk teenager to becoming a punk 35-year-old that it doesn’t mean the exact same thing to me that it once did,” he notes. “I used to think that if you don’t put a ska part on the record that I was bullshit, and a sellout and a poser; that I was abandoning my past. I don’t feel that way anymore.”
By circumstance, Jeff Roskenstock has found himself more detached from the homegrown DIY community. He acknowledges that it’s difficult to keep a finger on the pulse when you are no longer physically close to a scene. His growth in popularity has also forced a step away from the DIY ethic. “Obviously I’m not doing everything myself anymore, so right there you have it,” he puts bluntly. “DIY stands for do it yourself, but we didn’t get on TV because somebody e-mailed. We got on TV because we were on tour with The Menzingers and they got on TV. Jamie [Coletta] at SideOneDummy talked to somebody and made it happen. If the main goal is doing everything yourself then we sacrificed that completely. There’s too much work for us to do it all on our own.”